Syracuse Basketball: 5 Lessons Orange Must Learn from Recent Swoon
The last month or so is one that Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange will want to forget. The Orange have lost six of their last 10 games, including three in a row. As ugly as it has been for the 'Cuse, this stretch cannot be forgotten because there are lessons to be taken from it.
Syracuse was riding high in late January and looked primed to claim one of the top four seeds in the NCAA tournament.
Things took a turn for the worse when the third-ranked Orange went on the road to Villanova and lost 75-71 in overtime. The Wildcats were not ranked. That loss was followed up with a 65-55 loss at unranked Pittsburgh.
Three more losses to lower-ranked teams followed, along with a 58-53 loss to No. 10 Louisville.
The Orange now find themselves at 22-7, with a now unimpressive conference record of 10-6. Syracuse, once the favorite to win the Big East, is currently in sixth place in the conference.
1. Team Focus Needs to be Better
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Recently, the Syracuse Orange have had trouble focusing on what needs to be done. Turnovers and mental errors have cost the Orange in several of their games this season.
Those are the types of things that can really haunt a team in the NCAA tournament because it allows an underdog to stay in the game.
The lack of focus was on full display Saturday against Louisville. With the score close late, the Orange committed three turnovers, two of which led to four points for the Cardinals. For the game, Syracuse had 16 turnovers.
Aside from turnovers, this team has had a problem with starting slowly in games. In the Villanova loss, the Wildcats went up 10-0 right out of the gate. Though Syracuse was able to come back, starting slowly is an issue that needs to be addressed.
2. Making Shots is a Big Key to Winning
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Syracuse has struggled making shot all season, both from the foul line and the field.
That struggle has been magnified in recent weeks. The Orange have failed to shoot above 40 percent from the floor in five of their six conference losses.
Currently, Syracuse ranks 96th in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting a mere 44.7 percent. It's not any better from the foul line, as the Orange rank 209th in the nation.
The poor shooting as of late has led to slow starts, causing them to fall behind early and get out of rhythm.
This lesson sounds like common sense, but it's an important one. Missing shots from the field makes winning a lot tougher. No matter how good a team is on defense, it's difficult to come out victorious if they only convert around 30 percent of the shots taken on offense.
That's the trouble that Syracuse has now run in to, and changes need to be made fast.
3. This Team Struggles Against Zone Defense
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Opponents have found a way to make it tough on the Orange by giving them a dose of their own medicine. While Jim Boeheim's squad are masters at playing zone defense, they have really struggled when teams go into a zone against them.
Syracuse's strength is its ability to take advantage of great length in the frontcourt and drive the lane to look for the open shooter.
Those things are tough to do against a zone defense. The way to beat it is to hit shots from the outside, something Syracuse is not good at, shooting just 32 percent for the season. That ranks 248th in the nation.
The Orange seem to get a bit frazzled when the opponent's defense switches to a zone. They begin to get away from the game plan and shots start going up from everywhere.
With plenty of film now, teams that get paired with the Orange in the NCAA tournament can study and exploit this weakness if improvements are not made.
4. The Guards Need to Play Better
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Latly, Syracuse has gotten inconsistent play out of its guards, Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. While the two have led the team to many victories this season, their recent performances have contributed in the current losing skid.
Triche, who's led the team in scoring all year, has scored just 16 points with 10 turnovers in the last two games. His season has taken a downward turn during the month of February, as shooting has been a problem.
During Saturday's loss to Louisville, Triche scored eight points with seven turnovers. He shot just 18 percent from the field. That marked the fifth time in nine games that he shot under 35 percent in a game.
Things haven't been much better for Carter-Williams.
Although his stats over this recent losing stretch have not been much different than the rest of the season, he has just not played as sharp as he did earlier in the year. Ill-timed mistakes and missed shots have started to plague him in recent weeks.
If the Orange have any hope at a long run in the NCAA tournament, the backcourt needs to start performing better.
5. Need to Work on the Glass
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The Orange have been one of the top rebounding teams in the country, ranking in the top ten during the first half of the season. They have great height, especially in the frontcourt, that creates problems for many teams.
Syracuse ranks 14th in the nation in rebounding, averaging 39.6 a game.
However, despite having a size advantage in most games, Syracuse has been outworked on the boards over the past month. Teams like Villanova, Pittsburgh and UConn all surprisingly won the battle of the boards against the Orange.
All three teams have a poor rebounding ranking, with UConn being ranked 252nd in that category.
Size is not automatically going to equal rebounds. Hopefully for the Orange, they have learned over the past weeks that it takes work and effort to win the rebounding battle.